Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Black Friday is evolving. Retailers take note.

A game of one-upmanship might have forever changed the rules of retail’s “biggest day.”

Ok, shopping the day after Thanksgiving is not for everyone. We’re not taking sides (team Black Friday!) - love it or hate it, this article is about the marketing strategies behind a marquee retail event under fire.

Ten years ago, the fear was that online shopping would kill Black Friday (along with traditional retailing as a whole). In reality, the two get along quite well, eCommerce perfectly content living in Black Friday's shadow come 'cyber Monday.'

No, it turns out Black Friday is its own worst enemy.

Black Friday's goal is plain and simple; be the first stop.

But, how do you do it?

It starts with price.
If you can rope shoppers in with the best price on one or two most-coveted items, chances are good they'll stick around and buy more. It is not uncommon for major retailers to price highly-sought after items at or even below cost, a strategy in loss leadership designed to attract volume in hopes that their purchase of other items will offset any loss from underpricing.

Yes, in being the first stop, the lion's share of a shopper’s holiday budget is yours to lose! Collect.

Now, time is gaining momentum.
For as long as I can remember, 6 a.m. was the starting line. Stores opened two, maybe three hours earlier than normal. Circulars would hit the newsstands boasting holiday must-haves at rock-bottom prices. Customers would compare and plot their course. History would determine the winners and losers.

Then came the 5 a.m. door-buster.
Then JCPenney boldly went where no retailer had gone before: 4 a.m.

Maybe retailers became fed up with competing strictly on price?
With time, they could marginalize the impact price had on a shopper’s Black Friday schedule. Think about it. You might have been 2nd or 3rd priority in both price and product, but by opening two hours earlier than your competitors, you stood a good chance of being shopped first and shopped hard. It was a new (and highly influential) variable.

Downside: time is only a temporary competitive advantage.

It’s easily replicable. Once competitors get word of your Black Friday hours of operation strategy, they’ll aim to meet or exceed next year. When JCPenney moved to 4, Kohl’s opened the following year at 3. Benefit lost.

This year's move by many to midnight was matched by competition within days and simultaneously set a new high-water mark for the start of holiday shopping. I mean, how much earlier can we kickoff Black Friday without further disparaging the sanctity of Thanksgiving?

·         Last in a 3 retailer race, Kmart has been open on Thanksgiving Day for several years.
·         This year Old Navy began testing Thanksgiving hours in select markets.

With strategies in pricing and time exhausted, how will retailers look to stand-out against the competition in the future?

Black Friday Strategies of Tomorrow: What to Expect.

Black Friday is about to go Wild West. To glean additional wallet share, retailers will have to go beyond price and time, break from tradition, and get creative.

The rolling door buster/pricing promo.
Placing all bets on a single tactic like hours or price is too risky. Instead of a single event, Black Friday will evolve into a series of smaller, independent promotions – refined year after year. Traditional and online retailers alike have already started testing strategies in rolling promotions.

Walmart promoted three separate Black Friday events this year:
1.       A toy promotion starting at 10 pm Thanksgiving
2.       An electronic sale beginning at midnight
3.       A more traditional whole-sale deal starting at 8 am Black Friday

By offering different product categories at different times, Walmart has set the stage for Black Friday customer segmentation and enhanced store-traffic management.

Amazon didn’t just have Black Friday, they had Black Friweek, launching different promotions every day (and every few hours on Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Cyber Monday). The e-tailer built excitement and intrigue with an omnipresent countdown clock embedded site-wide throughout November.

With new deals arriving intermittently, Amazon no doubt increased traffic and frequency of site visits.

New Name(s).
Have you noticed the “Black Friday” moniker being dropped in favor of more ambiguous titles? Now retailers are having After Thanksgiving, 2-, and 4-day sales. It’s all in the vein of differentiation. To get attention in today’s cluttered holiday retail space, one has to be unique. And really, with different product category promotions running at different times, each retailer’s Black Friday Sale can be unique.

Beyond (and Before) Friday.
With every hour of Black Friday now exhausted, stores are building new promotions both before and after. Banana Republic offered Black Friday pricing online the Monday before. Others narrowed in on best customer segments and offered limited Black Friday “previews.”

And now, the Wild West.
In the past, the whole store was on sale. All stores opened at similar times, offering similar products at similar prices. But competition grew. Stakes were raised. Standing out got more difficult. Black Friday is becoming an enigma. No definitive start or kick-off. Different products on sale at different times at different stores. As a shopper, the task of organizing your spree can prove daunting.

Hear that, Social Media and Technology?  It’s time for a collabo!
I want to be on the team that builds a social media plug-in for managing Black Friday shopping! I know web forums that speculate, post, and discuss Black Friday ads already exist.  But with all the new variables, we need something more intelligent and collaborative. Picture a virtual calendar that would plot selected stores and associated promotions against one another. An online tool that could query by product: “Show me where and at what times and price I can find product x.”

Users could personalize by importing their gift list and zip code, select intended stores, and BAM - the virtual platform would render a most-efficient route and cost-saving schedule.

Are We Wrong?
Were you out shopping last Friday? What did you think of the crowds? Did they seem smaller? Less congested? Initial reports show sales are up. Perhaps, in Black Friday’s case, evolution breeds innovation! By breaking the sale down into smaller promotions that span a larger, less defined windows of time, demand (and crowds) can be parsed out as well. And who knows? With less emphasis on Friday hours, we might even see stores give Thanksgiving Day a little breathing room back!    

What do you predict for the future of Black Friday?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Facelift | Faceoff: Marc’s

Logos fascinate me.
They really are the physical manifestation of the company or product they stand for. What I really love is talking with the marketing and creative minds behind a logo. The passionate way they express the rationale behind every minute detail is invigorating. It reminds us that each color and font, every word and creative element, is heavily debated and painstakingly scrutinized.
And when a logo undergoes a major change, that’s when things get really good. That’s when all the lively/emotional debates are still fresh on everyone’s mind; the point where decisions were inevitably made of disagreements in intended interpretations.
And so, in that spirit, we bring you a new series aptly named: Facelift | Faceoff. It’s a spot where we’ll discuss both the before and after of a logo/brandmark revision; what was the intent behind the change and which version is better.
Our first subject comes from my childhood. Marc’s Grocery & Deep Discount Stores is just that, founded in NE Ohio with locations spanning much of the state (we promise to feature more national recognized brands in future posts).
Before the facelift:

Here, we see “Marc’s” in all caps; the logo made use of hard, black edge lines and a drop shadow treatment. The yellow-colored tagline, “Fun for your money!” was part of the company’s signature television/radio jingle: “Have fun for your money and sa-a-a-a-a-av-v-e…at Marc’s.” It almost looked like a cashier’s nametag (a cashier named “Marc”).
After surgery:
Ah! The new logo moves “Marc’s” into an upper/lower casing, replacing the apostrophe with a floating green leaf. All of the hard, black edge lines and drop shadow are gone, giving the treatment a fresh, clean look. The legacy tagline has been removed, along with it, the conflicting yellow. In its place, a bright, new tagline: “Fresh Savings. Smart Living.”
30k Ft Weighs In:
I mean, who pairs red and yellow with black? When set alongside the new, the original logo almost makes me squint. It’s so hard and abrasive by comparison.  For anyone who has been inside a Marc’s store, the previous tagline is accurate. Marc’s was a wasteland upon which larger retailers would dump their unsellable.  A veritable funhouse of surprises awaits anyone who dares meander down Aisle 1; all at ridiculous prices. And, oh yea, Marc’s has groceries.
With the soft green leaf and absence of hard edges, the new logo articulates a shift in business strategy and greater emphasis on fresh grocery offerings. The new tagline is conscious of the current economic climate. It also alerts customers that two things wrongfully assumed to be at odds, “freshness” and “affordability,” can be found in-store.  
For us, the change is a welcomed one. “After” prevails.
So, weigh in. Did our ersatz plastic surgeons botch the procedure?
Which look do you prefer?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"Yippee" for 'Yahoo!?' Don't celebrate just yet.

You do remember, Yahoo! – right?
Turns out Yahoo! is still very much alive, and recently released a few changes aimed at making their brand more social media friendly.
First, new social sharing features within Yahoo! News that makes sharing/recommending articles easy. Devised through a partnership with Facebook, the new feature simplifies peer-to-peer recommendations and allows readers to automatically share the stories they’re reading with Facebook friends.
Next is something Yahoo! is calling the Social Sentiment Slider. Placed directly below news content, the widget poses readers with a question related to the article, allowing them to record their opinions by simply sliding their cursors across an interactive scale. Jaguar signed on as a launch sponsor with additional brands to be announced soon.  In beta, initial tests showed the feature to boost both purchase intent and brand likeability by approximately 12%. (And you gotta figure, the Facebook tie-in is bound to help increase brand visibility within Facebook user feeds as well.)
So there you have it. Two steps in becoming more social. Innovation is great (and in Yahoo!’s case, deeply needed). But is optimizing for social share the only way Yahoo! can evolve?
Well, when it comes to search, it would seem Yahoo! continues to lose ground:

Forget search and let Google run with it. (Find the entire comScore Report here) 
What about email?
Stats from September break down the big 3 email providers by active users:
1.       Hotmail 369M
2.       Yahoo! 275M
3.       Gmail 193M
Opportunity strikes! To earn its keep,
Yahoo! needs to provide advertisers with better targeting, increased ad interaction and, where applicable, the ability to include social share.
But even with the second largest user base, Yahoo! desperately needs to refocus on holding user attention.
Ever try to change primary email addresses? (Notifying family, friends, utilities and all your favorite retailers?) It’s no easy task.  A high exit barrier Yahoo! has relied on for far too long.
What does the Yahoo! user base look like?
I found this great inforgraphic that breaks it down here.(try not to get offended by the characteristics associated with your browser of choice)

So, Yahoo! users are less tech-savvy (when compared to Google). Their family is priority #1 and they are extroverts. How can Yahoo! improve their site experience, thereby keeping them in front of ads longer?

1.       Streamline the email user interface (UI)
·         Clean, simple lines. More intuitive navigation.
2.       Reduce SPAM (Google figured it out)
·         Mail/contact lists requests alike. (Anyone else getting these daily?)

3.       Tight(er) integration with Flickr (you know, that company you purchased back in ‘05?)
·         Make sharing photos with family and friends a breeze via Yahoo! mail – it will keep users logged in longer.
4.       (Further) personalize the homepage
·         The Trending Now box was genius. It transformed the static search engine into a living, breathing thing. Here rises another opportunity for integrating with social. By cross-referencing a user’s “likes” and “followers,” related trends can be given heavier weight and promotion within both Trending Now and the primary news vignette.
Yahoo! and Google can co-exist. Like Target and Wal-Mart, it’s just a matter of aligning innovation with the unique needs of one’s target market.
Keep it up, Yahoo!. We believe in you.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

“Who’s YOUR Santa, QR Code?”

The gift of a second chance is given to quick response (QR) code technology - and by none other than the good people of J.C. Penney!  (I know; I was surprised too. Back in business school, we would have NEVER thought to chart “Innovative” and “J.C. Penney” in the same quadrant).
Since its recent inception, the QR Code has been used primarily (and not well) to direct customers to mobile websites, forms, and special promotions.  But J.C. Penney has taken quite a different (and might I add, brilliant) approach.
Check out the “Santa Tag” in action:
Not going to make it home for Christmas? As the video indicates, you can record a message and the JCP “Santa Tag” will store your sentiment for playback under the tree Christmas morning!
There’s that brand stickiness again.
With “Santa Tag,” J.C. Penney stakes its claim over the holiday gifting budget of tech-savvy shoppers.
“(Santa) Hats off” to JCP for repurposing QR technology to spark curiosity and delight; putting a little more magic into the holidays!
What do you think? Is it time to dust off our QR Code reader apps and get gifting, JCP-style?

UPDATE (11/11/11): It’s not about being “the best.” It’s about “delight.”
I received a number of emails challenging yesterday’s applause for J.C. Penney’s “Santa Tag.” 
While I agree that people will look to other, arguably more advanced, new-technologies when connecting with loved ones this holiday – (Skype, text and picture messaging just to name a few) - that’s not the point.
Think of the Santa Tag as the proverbial cherry on top. A small gesture, both surprising and charming.
Its intent is not to replace more substantial means of communication between gif-ter and -tee this Christmas.
Rather, it exists to go beyond the gift - bringing a brighter smile to the face and incremental warmth to the heart.
It’s icing on the cake.
Nothing more and that’s precisely the point. :)

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

"Can I get my Peppermint Mocha with Augmented Reality?"

Venti-sized Brand Stickiness

It's back...
Starbucks is adding a whole new dimension to their in-store experience!
From a brand that’s reached deity-like acclaim, (the arrival of its red cups each holiday season already triggers a flurry of social media activity) comes a new layer of product interaction, Augmented Reality!
Check out the promo:

It turns out Starbucks’ red holiday cups are even more magical than we had imagined!
Can’t decide if the augmented reality promo is really cool or really stupid?
Then it worked.  Still in its infancy, AR isn’t for everyone.  But you can’t deny that it’s innovative.  And while it may only provide 30 seconds of mild entertainment as you wait on your mocha to cool, it is sure to surprise and delight others.
For a company that has reached maturity in size, (I’m not kidding - literally on every corner in the Windy City) – the promo creates buzz. It sparks curiosity and will invariably get more people through the door.   
Through their interactive holiday promo, Starbucks reminds us all of their recently revised corporate vision and branding effort. Starbucks is much more than coffee.
Download the app Nov 15 (aptly called “Starbucks Cup Magic”) and check it out for yourself!

UPDATE (11/18/11): Did you ventured down to the corner Starbucks and interact with “Magic Cup?” 

We did, and thanks to the “buy one, get one” promotion, we got to experience two stories for the price of one! ::over-caffeinated::

Our impression? Good, not great. You have to learn to crawl before you can walk, right?  Starbucks’ Magic Cup promotion is a great crawler.

Dog and sled.

Once engaged, snow begins to fall. A boy and his trusty 4-legged companion come running in. A pile of snow begins to collect at the base of the cup and its show time! The boy throws down his toboggan and jumps on (dog riding piggy-back).  The two begin their decent, picking up speed. They dart safely past pines as the dog flips majestically through the air with each dip in terrain. The snow begins to level and the sled slows. The two have safely reached the bottom of the hill. Game over.

You know what would have been cooler?

If the interaction was REALLY a game! Once the characters hop on the sled, the POV changes and suddenly, it’s the user that’s on the sled; avoiding trees and performing tricks, all by gesturing finger. A point system could be incorporated, sparking friendly competition among Facebook friends via social share.  Complimentary drinks could be awarded at certain milestones.

Carolers and snowman.

Once focused on the cup, two friends begin to assemble a snowman. The two go off screen for a moment, returning with song books. They hand one off to the newly formed snowman and begin to sing (as evident by whimsical music notes and wide gaping mouths pointed up towards the sky). A moment passes, the song concludes, and the characters exchange smiling glances. The end.

What could have been done better?

If the characters actually sang (audio). Perhaps users could change the pitch and duration of individual notes based on finger movements on-screen? Facebook integration could be improved by sharing created songs with friends.

Are we overthinking it?

Perhaps the added complexity we propose for the applications far exceeds their original intent (not to mention, budget). Passive interest is built-in (as you have to have a cup handy to interact). It just feels unfinished. It’s cute, then it’s “meh,” then you find yourself asking, “now what?”

Bravo, to Starbucks for pioneering the medium - a commendable premier for in-store augmented reality. We’ll be eager to see how they top it in 2012…

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Are you 'Poken?'

Forget the Facebook ‘poke’ and get Poken!
It looks like Near Field Communication (NFC) found its potential!
The team at Poken has developed a proprietary NFC-based technology for collecting contacts and interacting with places and things.
Check it out:
Tradeshows and events just got a heck of a lot easier!
For business, no more:
·         Missed opportunities: losing business cards on-site or en-route prior to syncing with Outlook.
·         Bad data: storing incorrect information caused by human error and miss-keys.
·         Questions: where did I meet John, again?  Poken’s timeline keeps everyone (and thing in order)
·         Updates: Poken follows users as they change jobs. No more cross-referencing linkedin with Outlook to determine whether or not your contact has moved on. Through sync, Poken does all the heavy lifting.
What does the future hold?
With poken mobile apps, the possibilities seem endless!
·         Check-ins and loyalty tracking
·         Geo-based, impromptu discounting
·         Eco-friendly, paperless share of information
The physical devices are a merchandisers dream too!
I can picture people getting wrapped up in collecting Poken personas:
Are stickers, apparel, stuffed toys in their image to follow?

Already a pokernaut?
Has anyone tried this technology out? What do you think?
Seems easy enough:
  1. Activate online or by removing the white tab on a persona
  2. Meet & Poken other users by either mobile apps or pressing the palms of Poken personas together
  3. Sync & Share with your Poken contacts online, keep in touch and meet up again! 
I can’t wait to get my hands on one and ‘get Poken!’
Check ‘em out at:

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Hauling out the early is too early?

Yep, that’s my Christmas tree (courtesy of Instagram).
While most Chicagoans were leading their kids door to door for candy, I was looking for extra ornament hooks. 
I get a lot of flak from both family and friends. “You’re rushing the seasons. You’re neglecting Thanksgiving.”  Quite the contrary.  To me, Thanksgiving “kicks off” the holiday season (which culminates on New Year’s Day).  6(ish) weeks at the end of each year when we toast to family, friends and all that was good over the past 12 months.
I am a decorating fanatic too. I like to spend November transforming the house into a holiday wonderland. Done right before Thanksgiving, I can spend the month of December enjoying it, rather than rushing to get it all up.
But never mind how I handle the holidays.  What about retailers?
For most, the month of December proves the high-water mark for sales and profit.  Why not get a jump start on the fanfare?  Especially in a down economy?
It's November 1st, let’s take a quick run through the landing pages of a few top-of-mind retailers.  What’s on display?
·         Department Stores: a 50/50 split
o   Holiday: Nordstrom, Saks, Sears and JCPenny
o   General/Fall: Bloomingdales, Neiman Marcus, Macy's and Kohl's
·         Discounters: 1/2 in favor of Thanksgiving/Fall
o   Holiday: Kmart
o   General/Fall: Target and Wal-Mart
·         Home Décor Stores: 3/1 in favor of Holiday
o   Holiday: Potterybarn, Restoration Hardware, West Elm
o   Thanksgiving: Crate&Barrel
I must say I was surprised by Nordstrom’s homepage: 

Nordstrom prides itself on not decorating stores before Thanksgiving; “celebrating one holiday at a time.” (Never mind that such a stance leads to employees having to work late into the night Wednesday before Thanksgiving – thereby delaying the start of their time with family).
It’s Economics: 101, a lesson in Supply and Demand. 
Surely we can agree that some holiday merchandise should be available prior to Black Friday?
·         Boxed Cards: December’s full of holiday commitments and work, some like to get a jump start on filling out holiday sentiments.
·         Outdoor Lights/Décor: I’m already wearing gloves to work in the morning. It gets cold in November! Some people like to string up outdoor lights before the snow starts to fall.
Calling all Christmas-in-November naysayers! 
Next time you’re at Target, stroll back to the Seasonal Department. What would you suggest go on sale in the aisles recently vacated by Halloween? What would you be willing to buy during the month of November that isn’t represented in stores? 
Admit that Thanksgiving doesn’t provide a robust enough product mix to require a dedicated section.
...And if you’re not quite ready to buy an inflatable Santa, polar bear or snow globe:
Target has you covered online. :)